Click the tab below entitled “About the Infographic” for a short foreword by Police Foundation president Jim Bueermann.
Perhaps no other issue has a greater impact on the trust and confidence a community has in its police force than the use of force by police officers. The Internet, social media, and the viral nature of smartphone videos have made uncomfortable—and sometimes downright awful—images of police officers using force commonplace. This can lead people to believe that the incidence of police using force is much higher than it actually is and that the depicted officers should be criminally charged. When the use of force is judged to be “reasonable” and “justified”, these images, coupled with a lack of common understanding about the laws relating to the use of force and the procedures for investigating it, can cause viewers to conclude that the system is corrupt.
The Police Foundation has produced this Use-of-Force Infographic as a means of educating the public about when the police are allowed to use force and how those incidents are investigated. We found our task of making such a complicated issue easily understood through the use of an infographic to be a daunting one for a variety of reasons. America’s policing “system” is not actually a system. It is a collection of 50 different state laws bound together by U.S. Supreme Court decisions that try to clarify when the police can use force. To complicate matters further, each of the more than 17,000 independent policing organizations in this country has its own policies and procedures relative to investigating the use of force by its officers. And finally, our cultural, regional and political differences, and the differing mental models the police and the public have about the justified use of force, create emotionally charged debate.
Accordingly, this infographic is intended to provide the reader with a broad, high-level understanding of when the police use of force is legally viewed as reasonable and justified and how these incidents are generally investigated. There will undoubtedly be local differences, but this graphic follows the industry “best practices” wherever possible.
Police officers are unlike any other public employees in at least one significant way. They are the only class of governmental agents that, without prior judicial review, are permitted to use force – up to and including deadly force – against members of the communities they are sworn to protect. As such, it is vitally important that we: 1) create a common, plain language understanding of when the police can use force and what happens when they do; 2) develop investigative and accountability processes that are as transparent and responsive to community expectations as possible, and; 3) take the steps necessary to scientifically understand this phenomenon and take every possible action to minimize it. We hope this infographic helps advance these imperatives, and we welcome input about its future iterations.
Types of Force – We would like to note here that there is disagreement around whether “verbal” should be considered as a type of force used by the police. Some organizations like the National Institute of Justice (NIJ) and the Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) consider verbal as low level force, but other organizations like the International Association of Chiefs of Police explicitly exclude verbal commands as a type of force.
Data on police use of force – Within the infographic, we use 2008 data (published in 2011) because that is the most recent year for which the total number of direct, face-to-face contacts between the police and the public was estimated. We use data from The Washington Post because it maintains, in our opinion, the most accurate database of fatal police shootings in America. The FBI is currently revamping its data collection system relative to police shootings, and we are encouraged by the results its effort are intended to achieve.
Definitions – For brevity, we have tried to use terms that have common understandings, but some of these may have specific meanings in policing. For example, under the different types of force used by police, we use “physical” to mean any type of “hands-on” physical force an officer might use, such as grabbing an arrestee or using a pain compliance hold; “chemical” means the use of a chemical spray like oleoresin capsicum (OC) or tear gas; “impact” means the use of fists, police batons, or flashlights to strike an individual to gain compliance or overcome resistance; “electronic” means the use of an electronic control device such as a “Taser”; and “firearm” means the use of an officer’s sidearm, rifle, or shotgun.
Should you have any questions regarding this infographic, please feel free to email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
International Association of Chiefs of Police. (2001). Police Use of Force in America, 2001. [PDF Document]. Retrieved from http://www.nij.gov/topics/law-enforcement/officer-safety/use-of-force/pages/welcome.aspx
Bureau of Justice Statistics. (2011). Contacts Between Police and the Public, 2008 [PDF document]. Retrieved from http://www.bjs.gov/index.cfm?ty=pbdetail&iid=2229
Lowery, W. (2014, September 8). How Many Police Shootings a Year? No One Knows. The Washington Post. Retrieved from https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/post-nation/wp/2014/09/08/how-many-police-shootings-a-year-no-one-knows/
Graham v. Connor, 490 U.S. 386 (1989)
Tennessee v. Garner, 471 U.S. 1 (1985)
Plakas v. Drinski, 19 F.3d 1143 (7th Cir. 1994)
Reese v. Anderson, 926 F.2d 494 (5th Cir. 1991)
Glenn v. Washington County, 661 F.3d 460 (9th Cir. 2011)
Aldaba v. Pickens, 777 F.3d 1148 (10th Cir. 2015)
Tom v. Voida, 963 F.2d 952 (7th Cir. 1992)
Lester v. City of Chicago, 830 F.2d 706 (7th Cir. 1987)
If you would like to download a copy of the use-of-force infographic, here are a few formats we have made available for you:
High Resolution PNG
Four-page Printable PDF
Compressed PDF (Use for electronic viewing, not printing)
We would like to offer a special thanks to the following individuals who provided invaluable expertise, comments, reactions, and guidance during the development of this infographic: